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Agnes of Bohemia


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Foundress and first abbess of the Franciscan (poor Clare) nuns (d. c.1282). A descendant of Duke Wenceslaus, daughter of Ottokar I king of Bohemia and his Hungarian royal wife, Agnes from early childhood was a subject of various proposed dynastic marriages. These plans resulted in a good education for her, but her heart was not in the idea of marriage. Her final suitor was the emperor Frederick II, the widowed father of her previous fiancé. In 1235 she wrote to pope Gregory IX, asking him to prevent this marriage as she had not consented to it, and wished to consecrate herself to Christ permanently and exclusively. Frederick replied that if she had left him for another man, he would have taken vengeance; but that he could not take offence ‘if she prefers the King of Heaven to me.’

Agnes now undertook the building of several religious houses: first a friary for Franciscan Friars Minor, then a hospital for the poor under the care of the Hospitallers. Lastly, again with her brother's practical help (he was now king of Bohemia) she built a convent of Poor Clares. St Clare sent five of her own nuns from Assisi as founders and Agnes took the veil herself in 1236. Their poverty was absolute, modelled on that of Clare at San Damiano. Agnes, subsequently named abbess, undertook the tasks of sweeping, cleaning, and cooking besides the care of lepers' clothes. This was the first convent of Poor Clares north of the Alps, and Clare herself wrote to Agnes in terms of deep maternal affection. Agnes lived 44 years as a nun and died on 6 March. She was canonized in 1989 by Pope John Paul II at the time that the Czech nation was recovering its independence. Feast: 6 March.

B.L.S., iii. 56–8;Bibl. SS., i. 374–5

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